Downtown Washington Inc. wants to see empty storefronts and buildings in the historic district put to use.

So the organization plans to host open houses at available spaces to spur interest in someone buying a property or opening a business in one of them.

“Active spaces are much better than empty spaces,” Bridgette Epple, executive director, told The Missourian. “So we want to do whatever we can to show people what’s available, and offer ideas on what might work downtown.”

Epple envisions quarterly open houses at available spaces, where anyone could come in and check out the space.

The group’s first such open house will be Tuesday, Oct. 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. at 514 W. Front St.

The building, formerly occupied by Big Johnson’s Doc Haus, has been renovated by developer Andy Unerstall and is now available for sale or lease.

Unerstall also developed Rhine River Development, which includes townhomes and a restaurant. He will co-sponsor the open house and be available that night to answer questions.

“This is something we’ve talked about for a while and we decided to start with the Front Street building because Andy already has full-color plans drawn up to show how the building could work for a small grocery market, restaurant or even a retail space,” Epple said.

The space also could be divided and the building could be added on to, she said. A renovation to the rear of the building is now complete and there is potential space for a second floor business, residence or a rooftop deck.

Epple said ever since Droege’s Supermarket closed, her organization has been working to get a small market or grocer downtown, which has seen an increase in residential living.

“We would love to see a market downtown, but more importantly we just want to see the space filled,” she said.

“There has been some interest in opening a small grocery store, but no one has pulled the trigger,” she noted. “My hope is people turn out at the open house whether they just want to express support for such a venture or they’re interested in actually opening one. Or if someone is just curious and wants to see that space, that’s good too.

“I think the more public interest we can generate, the greater the chance we have in getting these spaces filled,” she added.

Unerstall, who is president of the Downtown Washington Inc. board, said he hopes other building owners with empty space will contact the organization about holding an open house in the future.

“It’s all about keeping downtown healthy and that’s what Downtown Washington Inc. is all about,” Unerstall said.